Angel Wings

Angel Wings

written by Nancy Malcolm

 

I’ve never really been a good sleeper.  I remember waking up early that morning while it was still dark outside and padding into the living room.  My father had closed the door leading into the bedroom he and my mother shared. I imagine he scooped me up and asked why I was up so early, as he sat us in the rocking chair.  He might have told me my mother was gone, but I don’t remember his words, only being held and rocked.

In the way that four-year-olds know things, I knew something was wrong with my mother.  I’m sure I was told about her illness and hospital stays but some sixty years later, I cannot remember the details.  The adults in charge of me most likely explained the circumstances in simple, cryptic words appropriate for a child. Only much later would I learn that my mother had died in the night and that my dad was rocking me as we waited for the funeral home to take her body away.  I find it unnerving that I awoke at just that time. Did her soul pass over my sleeping frame to tell me goodbye? Was I awakened by an angel’s kiss or my father’s sobbing?

All that mattered to me at the time was the warmth of my daddy’s lap and the rhythmic creaking of that old rocking chair.  It would be years later before I would feel the complete impact of her death and even now, I am taken aback at the enormity of my loss.  Our loss.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old.

I have only two vivid memories of my mother.  One was the day we brought home a wheelchair for her.  After the surgery to remove her brain tumor, her face was droopy on one side, her speech was slurred and she had trouble balancing enough to walk.  Because I was only four years old, I was told these facts, I don’t remember them first hand. I truly have no memory of my mother’s face, voice or mannerisms.  My dad always said that our mother was very frustrated with her inability to care for my brother and me after the surgery.  My brother was eight years old and with us being so young, I’m sure we took advantage of her slow mobility. The realization that she could no longer keep up with us was probably more than she could bear.  She was only 33.

I remember my dad and me pushing the wheelchair into the house and us laughing and talking.  But, she didn’t want it. I can see her now, standing in the living room in her robe. She had one hand on the piano to balance herself as she said with her garbled speech, “No.  Don’t need it.” She cried and was angry and shoed it away with her good hand. My brother and I were sent to play outside while my dad tried to calm her down. I do not know if the wheelchair stayed or not, but I know that she became resigned and despondent after that.  Her life as it had been as a healthy, young mother of two, was over.

My second memory is of my mother’s funeral and my dad picking me up to look at my mother in her casket.  He wanted me to kiss her goodbye. I didn’t want to because her lifeless body scared me. My reluctance made him more sad and upset.  

 My mother looked as though she had been gently laid in her final satin bed.  She wore a bright red shirt-waist dress made from a heavy wool fabric. While her face had been stitched carefully to disguise the drooping eyelids and mouth,  her dark brown hair looked fresh and stylish and her lips, painted in a blood-red matte finish, looked pleasant, not pained.  

“Don’t you want to kiss your mama goodbye?” he prodded and held me up to see her.  He leaned over with me so I could kiss her cheek and I kicked my legs and began to cry.  

What a sight that must have been, a young widower and his two small children standing at the casket.  As a child, seeing my mother’s body stiff and unnatural had to have been frightening.   I realize now that my father was lingering at her side.  He didn’t want to let her go. He knew that for the casket lid to shut and for her grave to be filled meant the end of his life as he knew it and ours too.

Years later I would recall that story to a therapist and for the first time, someone acknowledged for me how scary that must have been.  That was the first time I admitted it to myself. Unknowingly, my dad had made me feel ashamed at not wanting to kiss her goodbye and I was finally able to see the scene through a different lens.  For most of my adult years, I was petrified to attend funerals and I couldn’t figure out why. I would make up stories saying why I couldn’t attend and if I couldn’t get out of it, I would become anxious and shaky, nearly making myself sick.   I had a true fear of death and seeing a dead body and that did not change until much later in my life.  

There is a huge distance between my mother’s angel wings and the harsh reality of death.  My childlike mind never fully understood it or separated the two. My father would tell us our mother was an angel in heaven now, and still, we felt the fear and ugliness of death.  How can they both exist?

To this day, I don’t like loud noises such as gunshots and slamming doors or references to the dead coming alive or anything unpredictable that would make me jump.  I still cover my eyes or leave the room if a television program seems too frightening or the music too intense. It’s all just too much for me. I’ve been afraid since way back when…afraid of everything.   And for me, real life has been much more disturbing than make-believe. As an adult, I understand the process and realities of death, but the child in me is chilled to the bone and I can’t stop the shiver.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

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Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord, my soul, to take.

 

When I was growing up, that was the nightly prayer I said before going to sleep.  My Daddy made sure I knelt beside my bed and recited these simple words.

There are few things in life harder than losing a child.  It doesn’t matter how old, how young, miscarriage, or stillbirth, the death of a child is unspeakable.  Those who have not walked this path, rarely understand the deep emotions.  Their sympathy is sincere but the empathy only comes from experience.

In 1977 my daughter, Autumn was stillborn.  I had never known anyone who had lost a child or had a stillbirth.  I had a lot of shame surrounding it and since my own mother was deceased, I felt I had no one to share this shame and confusion with.  My shame stemmed from not being able to give birth to a healthy child and I felt totally inept as a woman.  I had no one to help me understand or guide me in being compassionate towards myself.

A few of my friends had experienced miscarriages in their early pregnancies, but I had gone through hours of labor and delivery only to find out she had never taken a breath.  Now, 41 years later, I have known a few women who have had the same sadness.  I have had the privilege of sharing my experience, strength and hope with them and they with me.

Recently, I have found two organizations that give hope, love, and support to the grieving parents.  One was in our local newspaper recently, called, “Angel Wings of Lake Travis.”  These volunteers make burial gowns for these infants who are victims of an untimely death.  Often the parents are unprepared or unable to provide a garment for the child to be buried in.  These precious burial gowns are made from donated wedding dresses.  The volunteers sew little gowns with a vest and bow tie for the boys and an exquisite gown for the girls.  The gown is given to the family free of charge.  What a meaningful way to help these parents say goodbye to their precious little one.

Another organization dear to me is, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.”  When I was taking a photography class recently, a volunteer spoke to us about giving our time as a photographer.  NILMDTS trains, educates, and mobilizes professional photographers to provide beautiful portraits to families facing the death of their infant.  The free gift of a professional portrait serves to honor the child and the family, thus providing an important step in the healing process.

What makes these so special to me is the fact that I had neither for Autumn.  She had no burial clothes and I have no photograph or tangible reminder of her little soul.  I know I cannot change these facts, but I would give anything to help another family have the healing closure they and their babies deserve.

I hope you will visit these two websites and take time to read about their missions, and to donate if you are so moved.

Thank you for reading and allowing me to share something so close to my heart.

://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/about/mission-and-history/

http://angelwingslaketravis.wixsite.com/angelwingslaketravis

Dear Daughter,

 

Dear Daughter,

Dear Daughter,

It is impossible to predict circumstances or situations that might befall us.  You did not choose the life that was given you.  I did not choose to be motherless, just as you had no choice in being without a grandmother.

I feel it sometimes when I recall my own Grandma.  She taught me to sew and fixed me old-fashioned hot cakes in a cast iron skillet.  When I spent the night with her, she would tuck me in, piling home-made quilts on top before telling me she loved me.

I hear it in your voice when you say we spoil our grandkids by giving them too much or catering to their wishes.  I forget that you didn’t have that.  You didn’t have a grandmother’s love.  You may not know that it is a grandmother’s privilege to give this unconditional outpouring to her grandchildren.  I have heard it said that a grandmother is like an angel who takes you under her wing, she prayers and watches over you and she would give you anything.

Just as I cannot know what my relationship would have been with my mother, I cannot know how she would have been as a grandmother to you.  I cannot predict how the past might have been.  I cannot describe what never was.  But, I am sorry you didn’t have a grandmother.  I’m sad you missed that bond as you grew up.  I would give anything to have her here for you as well as myself.

It seems unbelievably unfair that we have had to navigate life without a mother and a grandmother, but, we have done just that.  Perhaps, in a quiet moment, we can reflect on our depth and our capacity to love even though our guide was not able to be with us.  Somehow, we learned to be in this world while receiving our direction from above.
Christopher Morley said, “It is as grandmothers, that our mothers come into the fullness of their grace.”   As I am coming into the fullness of my grace, I wish for you to feel your grandmother’s love through me.  When you see my interactions with the grandchildren, stop and feel the love for yourself.  Whatever I do, say, feel and express to them…..take it into your heart.  Let the little child within you be at peace, and as you do this, feel your grandmother’s love through me.  The healing balm of her love transcends time and space, we have only to believe…..and I do.
Love always

The Autumn of My Life

Old Grief and New LossThe Autumn of my life began in July 1977.  I was 8 months pregnant when I suddenly went into labor and delivered my daughter….stillborn.

As suddenly as a life is conceived, a life may end.  As much as we may want, anticipate and long for a child, we may equally grieve and mourn and fall prey to depression.  There is no guidebook or manual to read that instructs us on how to be…how to cope… or how to live with the sadness.

Because my mother died when I was very young, I didn’t know what to expect with pregnancy or delivery.  I didn’t know about children or even the smallest part of mothering.  You would think, however, that I would have known how to deal with the loss and pain, but alas.. I did not.

It seems I was completely inept at grieving.  All the years of missing my mother somehow tumbled into the loss of my child.  It became one and the same.  Old grief and new loss melded.  

Through time, of course, a slow mending began and healing took root, but parts were hard and lonely and dark.  Then finally, another pregnancy.  During this 2nd pregnancy, I dared not to plan or prepare.  I waited to think of names and I drug my feet at buying a crib.  Then somewhere after the 8th month, I took a breath and instinctively knew it would be ok.  I felt an inkling of peace, a boost of hope, and a firm resolve that no matter what, everything would be alright.  And, it was.

My Autumn would turn 40 years old this July.  In my mind, she is a baby.  A wee little soul flying back from whence she came.  I sometimes like to think that maybe my mother is holding my daughter.  Hopefully, my mother was there to meet her as she floated to the other side.  Perhaps, the two of them have enjoyed these 40 years together as grandmother and grandchild.  It heals my soul to think so.  My mother, who never lived to be a grandmother and my daughter, who didn’t live to be a child, living perfectly together, healed and whole; connected, just like I would have wanted.

Someday, when my time here is ended, I know those two will be there to greet me as I cross the bridge.  Hand in hand, two souls will welcome me and whisper, “We missed you!” My heart will know them instantly and in that moment, the Autumn of my life will be complete.

The Forever Angel

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I was four years old when my mother died, and because she too was so young, I was told she went to heaven to be an Angel.  My Dad made her into a perfect person right away.  I never heard him speak of any flaws or indiscretions.  She was forever an Angel.

 

It’s hard growing up with an Angel as your role model.  I was always judged by what my mother would have said, done and been.  Forever perfect, she was portrayed.

 

Through the years I’ve heard plenty of testimonies from friends who knew her well.  They almost all say the same thing…she was beautiful, smart, funny and very kind.  Not one hint to a mistake, bad temper or habit that needed to break.  Even her friends from high school wrote beautiful things about her in her yearbook.  Oh, how I have judged myself harshly in comparison of her light.

 

My Auntie Sue understood all of this.  She would try to tell me stories about my mother and share adventures the two of them had shared.  She would always tell me, “Your mother had her ways,” but, she never got around to telling me what “her ways” were.  Maybe Auntie Sue was giving me a break, a glimmer of hope, that it is ok to be human.
I’ve long since accepted the fact that I am truly human, and that probably my mother was too.  No one will mistake me for a ‘forever angel’ when I am gone….and that’s  perfectly alright with me.